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The Signature of All Things: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 1, 2013
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"The Angels" Share" by J.R. Ward
Best-selling author J. R. Ward delivers the second novel in her Bourbon Kings series—a sweeping saga of a Southern dynasty struggling to maintain a façade of privilege and prosperity, while secrets and indiscretions threaten its very foundation. Learn more | See related books
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Top Customer Reviews
The Signature of All Things is a big, ambitious book, beginning with the world-spanning exploits of one Henry Whittaker, thief turned botanist, in the late 1700s, before moving on to his daughter Alma about 50 pages in. Alma grows up fantastically wealthy and encouraged to follow scientific pursuits, falls in love with a local publisher, and you think you know where this is going.... but then, well, it doesn't go that way, and a third of the way through the book she's 48 years old, and then the real story begins.
One of the difficulties with this novel is that there's no real driving plot--or rather, Alma's life is the plot, though there are some significant time-skips--but it consistently defied my expectations and kept my interest. It's a book about the Enlightenment, with a lot of research and discovery and expanding of horizons, and I came away impressed with Gilbert's respect for science. Alma is someone whose intellectual life is as important to her (perhaps more so) than her emotional life, and most authors would have a hard time writing about that sort of character in a positive and believable way--which makes sense; writing a good novel almost always requires an author to be intensely interested in feelings. But Gilbert balances the science and emotion well, and even has me looking at mosses (Alma's specialty) with new eyes.Read more ›
The novel is full of small delights of writing. Money, Gilbert writes, follows Alma's father around "like a small, excited dog." The nineteenth century enchantment with science and the natural world is expressed fully and with the sense of wonder Alma and her family felt. Alma is educated in the 19th century way by her autodidact botanist father Henry and her classically educated Dutch mother, who want her to be able to understand the world on many levels. She does, and she doesn't.
Where the novel falters is in the secondary characters, notably Alma's adopted sister Prudence and their friend, Retta. Both characters are meant to offer contrasts to Alma's cerebral, carnal aspects, but as people they are not believable, nor are their marriages. The novel becomes a little unmoored--as does Alma--once she leaves White Acres for the greater world. These are strange false steps in an otherwise assured work.
But you know what? Who cares! It might take a little suspension of disbelief in the last third or so of "The Signature of all Things" but each page is still a pleasure and otherwise it might just be too perfect. May this quality novel have the success of Elizabeth Gilbert's other books. It would be nice to see it at the top of the NYT bestseller list.
Though I am not much into fiction, I was mildly curious to find out how Ms. Gilbert would walk out of memoir mode and segway into the world of fiction (not sure if this is her first fiction but it's the only one I have picked up).
Would she be able to enrapture, intrigue and delight us with a tale borne out of her imagination, as she had with her own true story in "Eat, Pray and Love"?
Well, the answer is a resounding yes!
And by golly, does she have a tale to tell.
Set in the 18th -19th century, the story revolves around Alma, the daughter of the very wealthy Henry Whittaker. From her father, Alma has inherited a penchant for plants. She spends most of her waking hours trying to make sense of the botanical world around her, perhaps in an attempt to understand her own existence. But through the course of her life, she is made to realize how little she knows about her own world, her own self.
The story has been skillfully woven into a rich tapestry of adventure, emotions and science. Something also needs to be said about the amount of research that must have gone in; the book is peppered with facts that have been laid out in a manner almost poetic.
"Alma learned to tell time by the opening and closing of flowers. At five o'clock in the morning, she noticed, the goatsbeard petals always unfolded. At six o'clock, the daisies and globeflowers opened. When the clock struck seven, the dandelions would bloom. At eight o'clock, it was the scarlet pimpernel's turn...."
Facts infused with poetry or perhaps poetry infused with facts?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'm so annoyed that I wasted any time at all with this book.Published 49 minutes ago by Julie Tillman
Elizabeth Gilbert is amazing, her literature has always touched me. Eat pray love, helped me through a breakup and this text has allowed me to ease into a transition and encouraged... Read morePublished 21 hours ago by Jazmin G.
A very different kind of book. It had some very captivating story lines, interspersed with some very relaxed reading.
Well written, and very memorable. Read more
I got this book because I liked Eat Pray Love -- was hesitant to read because of the size and the setting. Gilbert's writing saved the day though. I stayed engrossed throughout. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Vickie Sullivan
I love this book so much. This was the first book by the author I ever read and it was not a disappointment. Beautifully done.Published 2 days ago by Lucy Sue
I rarely give a book a five-star review, but The Signature of All Things is one which sits on the five-star bookshelf of my growing number of beloved friends. Read morePublished 6 days ago by J. EROS
Crazy and Boring read. It's better to read a comic book instead. Her read will make you mentally Ill.Published 8 days ago by erickson lee